It is a sign of how haphazard and reactive Pakistan has been in trying to safeguard it future water supply that the country only rushed to the World Bank after India inaugurated the Kishanganga Dam last Saturday. Predictably, our three days of meetings with various World Bank officials have yielded no significant results. The statement issued by the World Bank at the conclusion of the talks was that no agreement was reached and that it would could to work with both countries. The World Bank has always taken a position of studious neutrality on the Indus Waters Treaty. Last year, when Pakistan wanted the water issue to be adjudicated by the International Court of Arbitration while India pushed for the appointment of neutral experts, the World Bank preferred to announce a pause in arbitration of the dispute rather than make a decision that would anger one of the two countries. It is understandable that Pakistan is seeking international intervention. It is already a water-insecure and the ravages of global warming, coupled with the breakneck construction of Indian dams that siphon off water from the western tributaries of the Indus River, will only make the problem worse. Bilateral discussions with India are useless when the country is led by Narendra Modi – a man who threatened to withdraw from the Indus Waters Treaty and cut of Pakistan’s water supply after the Uri attack last year.
It is difficult to see how the dispute can be resolved fairly in the near future. The heart of the disagreement is the vague language of the Indus Waters Treaty. While the treaty does give Pakistan full rights to water from the western rivers, there is a fair use clause that allows India to construct dams to store water for its own use. Any agreement will have to define the exact parameters of what constitutes fair use. That we are in this position in the first place is entirely our fault. India has managed to change the facts on the ground by constructing the Kishanganga and Ratle dams while the dams Pakistan has been trying to build for over two decades have been mired in endless delays and cost overruns. Still, the Indus Waters Treaty, despite how valuable it has been, needs to be adapted for the present day when both countries need more water than ever. Ultimately, with India in no mood for compromise, the lead will eventually have to be taken by a reticent World Bank.